Take two women who embark on an intense exercise regime together at a Crossfit gym for 3 months.
One woman gets stronger, fitter and healthier. The other woman frequently injures herself, picks up colds she cannot shift, starts to experience sleep disturbances and nightmares and her body fat increases.
Why such a difference in experiences?
The response to exercise will depend on the health of the individual. If there is a chronic condition such as IBS, autoimmune or an impaired endocrine condition such as chronic fatigue, it will make exercising more difficult. Think of it like a bank account. A healthy person has energy to spare and can spend at the gym. Someone tackling a chronic condition may be in their overdraft - their body does not have the reserves to invest in heavy exercise.
With many chronic conditions, we often recommend resting the body, enabling it to recover before embarking on strenuous exercise such as gyms or running. Exercise such as yoga, pilates or walking could be more appropriate.
Type of Person
Not everyone exercises well in the evening. An interesting research study by the University of Birmingham shows that the choice of exercise and the time of day you exercise could be dependent on health, genetics and body type.
They describe the 3 types of body clocks called chronotypes - early, intermediate and late.
The study showed that the 'morning larks' struggled with evening exercise and the late 'night owl' types performed very poorly in the early morning, on average about 26 percent worse than their peak level.
If a person is experiencing high stress than strenuous exercise can cause more problems than they solve.
Our Endocrine system secretes hormonal messages to tell our bodies how to function and is the front line when dealing with stress. When we are under constant stress we produce a lot of adrenaline (quick stress response) and cortisol (slower release stress response) and this can result in adrenal fatigue.
As the glands work together in partnership with the hypothalamus, adrenal fatigue can cause issues in the rest of the endocrine system. For example, Pineal symptoms include sleep disturbance and low mood. Thyroid symptoms include temperature difficulties, slower metabolism and period issues.
Adding intense exercise on top of a struggling endocrine system is like flogging a dying horse, it will only make stress symptoms worse.
Cortisol works as an emergency immune suppressant. This is great if you are trying to get away from something quickly. But if there is regular production of cortisol, the immune system will become compromised making it more difficult to fight infections and colds.
New thinking around cortisol suggests that its not just about the excess cortisol in the body that is causing havoc but something similar to diabetes, where too much stress causes the cells to become cortisol resistance and therefore cannot process cortisol effectively.
Another factor to consider is whether Number Two Woman is eating foods that she is intolerant to. Foods such a processed grains, sugar or dairy can aggravate the gut and stress the immune system which signals there is a foreign invader in the body. By cutting out foods that are causing problems will allow her to access more energy and vitality to exercise.
The body needs fuel to exercise. If the correct nutrition is not going in, there will likely be an increase in physical symptoms and injuries.
We recommend a diet rich in good proteins (meat, fish and eggs for muscle repair and growth), omega fats such as butters, nuts and oils (for cardiovascular health) and healthy carbs such as fruits and vegetables (essential vitamins and fibre to keep the digestion happy).
There is a lot of new research about the importance of cutting out processed foods and grains for optimal health. The belief that we need complex carbs such as pasta to fuel the body in exercise is no longer validated. To go deeper into this check out 'Why Grains are bad' article here.
If the exercise is enjoyable, our bodies will produce serotonin (happy hormone), dopamine (pleasure hormone) and endorphins (natural pain killers). The body will also produce adrenaline and cortisol but this will be balanced out with the more positive feeling hormones.
If the exercise is a miserable experience, the body will produce high levels of adrenaline / cortisol without any of the enjoyment hormones, evoking the feeling that the body is under attack. If the body is unable to process high levels of cortisol it will store it in fat cells. The work of Charles Polequinn, suggests that excess cortisol primarily stores itself around the abdomen.
Time of Day
The time of day they exercise can be important. Cortisol needs to be highest in the morning, not in the evening. Stressful exercise suppresses the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our "rest and digest" or "feed and breed" functions. Therefore heavy exercise in the evening can result in the body
being unable to rest (sleep disturbances and nightmares)
unable to properly digest and absorb food (IBS symptoms, gut pain and bloating)
increase or decrease of appetite or cravings
decrease in sex drive
Tips for Exercise
If you think your exercise regime is causing you problems, listen to your body and ask yourself the following questions;
Do I feel energised or exhausted after exercising?
Am I a morning lark or an evening owl type of person?
Am I exercising at the right time of day for me?
Do I injure myself with high intensity exercise?
Does the exercise I do make symptoms worse?
Do I enjoy the exercise I do or do I punish my body?
Is my diet rich in exercise fuel such as fish, meat, fats, fruits and vegetables?
Am I eating something my body can't process or do I have a potential food intolerance?
To get the best from your body and your health, choose exercise that you enjoy, that energises you, that doesn't injure you and choose the time of day that's best for your type. Work with your body, not against it.
If you are saying to yourself 'I hate doing this exercise' - stop immediately. It is probably doing you more harm than good.
If you are experiencing symptoms from exercising then its your bodies way of telling you something needs to change - be it your exercise choice, diet or lifestyle.
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